The purpose of a morning routine is to feel energized and purposeful shortly after waking up, giving yourself the highest odds for daily success.
“Ensure you have enough energy each day to make a difference in other peoples lives” – Tom Rath
Here are a few examples of morning routines:
- Entrepreneur and Shark Tank investor Kevin O’Leary wakes up at 5:45 a.m. and watches the news while riding an exercise bike for 45 minutes.
- Author Cal Newport rises at 6 a.m., drinks a glass of water, and then walks with his dog. While in the park, he does 25 pull-ups on the jungle gym.
- Author and Angel Investor Tim Ferriss wakes up, makes his bed, meditates for 21 minutes, hangs upside down for a few minutes to decompress his spine, make teas (green tea + pu-erh tea + ginger and turmeric tea with coconut oil) and then journals for a few minutes (to trap anxieties on the page).
What follows is a step-by-step breakdown of my morning routine:
Each component explained in detail (why, what & how):
Phil Jackson (NBA Hall Of Fame Coach), CEO’s of Ford & Twitter, Ray Dalio (founder and CEO of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund), Arianna Huffington (President and Editor of Huffington Post), US Army…and many many more top performers have one thing in common – the meditate.
Meditation has been proven to physically grow your brain in areas associated with self-awareness and compassion. Mediation allows you to make better decision-making through the day, increase your ability to empathize and build relationships, and experience less stress and more creativity.
To start meditating I set timer for 7 minutes and sit upright in a chair. The timer gives me permission to disconnect from my thoughts for a short period of time. Know that the session will end soon is enough to relax my brain and make meditating effective.
To start meditating you could use guided meditation (calm and headspace are great smartphone apps for guided meditation) or a neurofeedback device such as the ‘Muse‘ headset to get started (training wheels for meditation).
My exact method: I don’t worry about crossing my legs or maintaining perfect posture. I sit in the chair with my back supported, hands on my thighs and simply focus on my breathing. I try to let my breathing happen as naturally as possible, without any conscious control. I try to observe the gaps between my inhale and exhale – developing a sense of curiosity about what is controlling my breathing without me consciously doing it. Whenever I have a thought that takes me away from my breath monitoring, I simply acknowledge the thought and imagine a stream of water rushing by to wash that thought away, then return back to monitoring my breath. A stream of water is a metaphor I use to understand the constant stream of thought I have. We all have an inner ‘thinking’ voice in our minds that provides commentary on our life experiences. That voice flows constantly, like a river. During meditation we must step out of the river of thought and simply focus on our breathing for a time being.
A German study, by Franz Volhard Clinical Research Center, found that drinking 17 oz of water caused patients metabolic rates increased 30%. The increase occurred ten minutes after drinking the water and maxed out at 30 to 40 minutes post drinking. If you want to accelerate fat burning and generate more internal energy upon waking then you need to drink more water.
“Dehydration is a major cause of day time fatigue as well, and dehydration slows your metabolism by 2-3%. As time goes on this imbalance can steepen dramatically in a person in an altered environment. In fact, just a 2% drop in total body water can cause neurologic changes to show up. How do I know this? I am a neurosurgeon, and we see these swings all the time in trauma cases and and brain tumors that are associated with syndromes called SIADH, cerebral salt wasting syndrome, and diabetes insipidus.” – Dr. Jack Kruse
Drink cold water. Cold water carries more oxygen and allows for better signaling across cells, which boosts personal energy levels.
Upgrading my water:
- Add a teaspoon of sea salt into a glass with some turmeric powder. The sea salt contains sodium (without the excess iodine present table salt), an electrolyte that our body needs to function. Salt raises your blood pressure to normal levels which further makes you feel energized. If you are worried about too much salt then cut out the processed foods you eat throughout the day.
- Turmeric powder has been found to boost memory for up to six hours. Curcumin, the primary ingredient in turmeric, has been proven to be a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent in the body.
- Unless you work outside and soak up at least 2 hours of sunlight a day it is important to supplement with Vitamin D. Every cell in your body relies on Vitamin D to function optimally.
I get in the shower and make sure the water is nice and hot. The hot water provides me with a deep sense of gratitude – I am extremely lucky to have the luxury of hot water at my disposal! This initial feeling of gratitude triggers three additional areas of gratitude:
- Relationships – I thinking about who I love and who loves me. If I’ve had a tough week and I can’t think of anyone, I ask: “Who could I love?” and “Who could I allow to love me?”
- Excitement – I think about what upcoming events am I really excited about. I think of my week, my month, my year and my entire life. If nothing comes to mind I ask: “What could I be really excited about?
- Purpose – Lastly, I think about “the one thing am I supposed to accomplish in my life”, or put another way: “the one thing I want to be remembered for.” This is typically established before I go into the shower. However, if you don’t know your one thing, simply ask yourself: “What could I be remembered for?” Thinking of your purpose gives you a sense of clarity and a higher level of personal energy. (See my post ‘The Power of Identity‘ for more details)
At the end of EVERY shower, I turn the handle all the way to the coldest setting and let the cold water hit my chest for 10 seconds, then my back for 10 seconds. The initial shock of the cold temperature cues my mind to focus on my breathing and not on the discomfort. I exhale very slowly and focus on the warmth of the air leaving my mouth. This mental exercise reduces my discomfort and intensely focuses my mind.
Health benefits of Hot-Cold showers: Brief exposure to cold water causes the body to increase its metabolic rate (burning more brown fat) in a process called cold thermogenesis. Cold thermogenesis causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide. According to Dr. Andrew Jones, nitric oxide has two major effects on the human body: “The first is that it causes blood vessels to dilate, so you can provide more blood through them. Simultaneously, it seems to make the mitochondria (power plants located in each cell of your body) more efficient, so they are able to create the same energy while consuming less oxygen—in terms of performance, that’s a pretty good combination.”
Hot-Cold showers provide me with the same health benefits as exercise in the morning, without the excess time commitment. At first, getting yourself to stand under cold shower will be difficult. However, I’ve learned that you only need to do it a few times before it becomes relatively easy to tolerate. In fact, I now do it every time I am about to step out of the shower because it simply feels weird NOT to do it. Hitting myself with cold water has become an essential habit in my life – much like brushing my teeth in the morning.
Failing to plan your day before checking your inbox causes you to spend the rest of your day in reaction mode: a state in which other people’s priorities become your priorities.
To avoid reaction mode, go through a quick planning sequence before checking your email and notifications (social media, texts, stock alerts, etc.).
My morning planning phase involves the following steps:
- Go through my list of active projects and responsibilities.
- Write out some critical outcomes that come to mind when viewing this list – things that require your attention this week.
- For each of your critical outcomes indicate the people you need to reach out to or follow-up with to ensure they get done.
Now I use this list of people to filter through your inbox and determine what is truly urgent and important.
Some of the smartest people in the world, like pilots and surgeons, rely on checklists to avoid failure and ensure success (see Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande). Why not have a checklist to ensure you make quality decisions day in and day out? Why not have a way to preempt setbacks and ensure our long-term success?
Each morning I go through a list of things to watch out for and avoid during the day. I call this my ‘NOT do’ Checklist. It includes common distractions and temptations, like eating sugar or going to bed late and not getting enough sleep.
Next, I go through a list of trade-offs I need to be aware of when making decisions during the day. I remind myself of what I consider valuable uses of time and money. For example, when tempted to buy something expensive I just need to remember that a book is only $10, and I love reading books. This makes me less likely to waste $100 when I know it could buy me 10 new books.
“Your level of success will seldom exceed your level of personal development.” – Jim Rohn
I sit on my couch, set a timer for 15 minutes and start reading through one of the ‘personal development’ books on my Kindle eBook reader. Personal development categories include: leadership, communication, productivity, business, entrepreneurship, etc.
“The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off large chunks of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and e-mail off.” – Mark McGuinness (Manage Your Day-to-Day)
Our minds spend the entire night consolidating information from the previous day and working through problems subconsciously. Upon waking our minds are primed to provide you with solutions and creative insights to problems. Failing to block out ‘creative time’ in the morning to capture these insights is a lost opportunity.
I start my ‘create’ phase by getting out a piece of paper and either doodling or free-writing (writing fast without editing). In either case I am simply writing down whatever is on my mind. To kickstart the process I often ask myself: “What could I finish today?”. If, after a few minutes, nothing substantial comes to mind I look over my previous notes and latest work. This invariably triggers new ideas. The result: I typically come up with a solution to a problem or make progress on an important task.
Pro Tip: It is important to LIMIT your creative sessions for two reason. First, having a time limit focuses the mind. Countless studies have shown that creativity thrives under constraint (time constraints and resource constraints). Secondly, once you get started, your mind starts noticing more and more patterns and generates new insights. This is helpful for a little while, but if you’re not careful you’ll find yourself going way off on a tangent. It’s important to time your creative bursts to ensure you stay on track.
Do NOT check your email!
The moment you check into your email you check out of proactive mode and into reactive mode. Email is an inbox of other people agendas. Checking email will jack up your stress levels and take your focus off your morning routine (a series of activites that will benefit your health and your long-term success).
“When you check in (email), you check out spiritually” – Brendon Bouchard
Your inbox can wait. Instead, take the time to focus on yourself for the first 30-60 minutes of your day – it will make a huge difference to the quality of your day, and ultimately, the quality of your life.
Customize Your Morning Routine
The book The Miracle Morning suggests 6 areas of focus for you morning routine, he calls Life S.A.V.E.R.S.:
- S is for Silence (quiet, gratitude, meditation, or prayer)
- A is for Affirmations (purpose, goals, priorities)
- V is for Visualization (of goals or ideal life)
- E is for Exercise
- R is for Reading (a self-improvement book)
- S is for Scribing (journaling)
Breakfast or No Breakfast?
If you are overweight (even slightly), eat a large amount of protein within 30 minutes of waking. Why? Doing so raises your leptin levels, a hormone that regulates your metabolism/energy levels (also know as the starvation hormone). Dr. Jack Kruse recommend that within 30 minutes of waking you:
- Make sure breakfast is little to no carbs (less that 50 grams) – aim for NO breads, cereals, oatmeal, fruit
- LOTS of protein (50-75 grams) – focus on pastured/organic eggs; grass fed meat, poultry and fish; protein shakes (less ideal)
If you choose not to eat breakfast that is OK. The important thing to remember is when you ‘break your fast’ you do so with a protein rich meal that is low in high glycemic carbohydrates (that means no ‘white’ foods – pasta, bread or added sugar). Eating carbohydrates puts you into fat storing mode. Avoiding carbohydrates keeps you in fat burning mode.
Save the carbohydrates until later in the day when your energy levels are not as important (high glycemic foods like bread and candy give you a short boost of energy but then leave you feeling lethargic for an extended period of time as your blood sugar starts fluctuating).